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Restrictive Sex Ed Policy in Utah Hampers Youth’s Ability to Practice Sexual Health

The recent event regarding a teacher’s comments during a sex education class in Utah reveal how restrictive state policies on adolescent health and education impede students’ ability to gain vital information on HIV, STDs and pregnancy prevention.
 
In Utah, on June 6, 2008 the Jordan School District of Utah placed a middle school health teacher on administrative absence while they investigated claims that she shared information about sexuality with students that was not permitted under Utah’s state sex education policy.
 
Reports state that the teacher responded to students’ questions about “homosexual sex, oral sex and masturbation.”  According to Utah law, human sexuality instruction in school must not include discussion on “the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior”. Teachers are also not permitted to advocate for or encourage the use of contraception.[i]
 
While it is not completely clear what the teacher said during the class discussion, parents of students say that the lecture violated the boundaries of what is permitted for human sexuality education in Utah state schools.
 
In response to this controversy, State Representative Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman) plans to draft a bill that would establish criminal penalties for teachers who fail to abide by the restrictions of the statute. “Right now what a teacher is allowed to teach regarding sex education is very clearly defined in the statute. The problem is that if a teacher violates that law…the only repercussion is administrative,” stated Wimmer.[ii]
 
However, despite Wimmer’s claim, many feel that the state law is unclear and leaves teachers confused about if and how to answer questions about sexual health. Martha Kempner, vice president for information and communications at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), said that the restrictive education policy may force teachers to omit vital information from the class. “Many teachers, given the reaction to this [policy], will say ‘I’m not going to make that call. I’ll just skip it.’ Even if students are abstinent as young adults, at some point in their life they’re going to need this information—even if they wait until marriage.” [iii]


[i] Ben Fulton, “Taboo Topics Present a Minefield for Instructors,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 6 June 2008.
[ii] Roxana Orellana, “Teacher’s Sex-Ed Talk Riles Parents,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 5 May 2008.
[iii] Ben Fulton, “Taboo Topics Present a Minefield for Instructors,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 6 June 2008.

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